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There is common consensus that a modern business, if it wishes to stay competitive, must put in place efficient systems for management of its processes. It seems to go almost without saying that the solution lies in computer systems for Business Process Management. But what if you need to build a reseller network in Asia? Improve in-house design skills? Control the flow of commercially sensitive information outside the company? There are processes involved, certainly. However, it would take a particularly hard-nosed Business Process Management vendor to stand up and say to a board of directors that its software caters in itself to such problems. Existing process languages, for all their power, do not in themselves capture the human issues crucial to such activities. Why is this? And what else do you need?

Vendors of advanced process support software rightly claim that their products expose processes in order to render them more manageable. However, we will show that the processes typically exposed by such systems are of a specific type: centered on software applications. Hence, the benefit of expressing such processes via such systems is largely that you can then make better use of the software applications concerned—to re-use legacy applications, for example, or provide more sophisticated automation that joins up diverse applications. Is this the best we can hope for from process management? To answer this, we must deal with the underlying question—are all business processes about software applications? Are business processes just about executing transactions and keeping records?

Unlike cats, not all processes are grey in the dark. Every businessperson knows that not all the activity in the enterprise takes place within a computer. There are two major types of business processes, and these require different forms of treatment, both by managers and by computer systems. Unlike the mechanistic processes conventionally handled by process support systems, many business processes are essentially human phenomena—driven by people rather than by machines. There is a major new source of competitive advantage out there, just waiting for a new type of process management software—the Human Interaction Management System (HIMS).

If we are to understand what current process modeling techniques can do, and what they can’t do, we need to understand what they are. In particular, we cannot fairly judge the utility of these techniques unless we have a true understanding of what those who employ them mean when they talk about “processes”—since this may not be the same as we take them to mean. What are the nuts and bolts from which such a process is actually made?


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